Age Ranges for Children’s Picture Books? Ignore them

Not so long ago, I was sitting on the floor in Foyles, London (one of my favourite haunts), thoroughly enjoying Aaron Becker’s wordless trilogy, when a grandfather came up to me. He asked me if I could recommend a book for his five-year-old granddaughter.

After getting a little more information, I selected a few, and he happily trotted off with the first one I selected. I was touched that he trusted me sufficiently to make that choice. It made me think about the best ways of choosing books for children.

Recently a new bookstore said they were going to introduce recommended Age Ranges for their books. This irritated me as I feel it won’t help parents make the best decisions about books for their children. I don’t like having age ranges for books because I believe they are extremely limiting. There are so many fabulous picture books out there. And I would be really saddened if I thought no child over the age of six was going to enjoy them. So here are my reasons why age ranges are unhelpful.

1. Children learn at different rates

No five year old is the same. A few are reading independently, most are able to sound out simple words and know some High Frequency Words. While some are not reading at all. They can also have hugely different attention spans. A few can’t sit still, most can sit still for five to ten minutes and some can sit still and concentrate on books for hours.

picture of a book shelf

2. Your child can still learn from them

No matter the ability, children can still learn from these books. If your 5 year old hasn’t yet grasped High Frequency words like “and” and “the” then reading picture books will be great, as children can learn words from these books more easily. If they can read slightly more they’ll be able to link some of the words to the pictures. This will help build confidence as they’ll feel excited when they get it right.

In some books, like This Is Not My Hat the story is more complex. While some children will just enjoy the pictures, others you can talk about what’s going on. As such you can use the story as a means to talk about certain issues. Some picture books have some very interesting and complex issues like Green Lizards vs Red Rectangle and Dinsosaurs and All That Rubbish.

3. Different things interest each child

Children have completely different interests too. So I recommend parents encourage their children to choose books that interest them. This way they are far more likely to engage with it. By all means show them other books as well but please give them the opportunity, whatever their age, to look at picture books. If you’ve read any of our other articles, you’ll quickly see that picture books are fantastic platforms for all sorts of learning.

picture of green aliens with their heads in their hands

4. Children can gain confidence from them

Your child will feel a sense of accomplishment by reading “easy” books, or books that they already know. Getting through the book all by themselves can be great for their confidence, and can give them the motivation to keep on reading. Some children can get discouraged if they find a book too challenging. So by giving them a book they can read themselves, you will help them feel more comfortable reading.

illustration of a boy in a tree looking curiously at an inch tall man standing on a branch

5. Your child may still love it

One of the key factors in helping children to read is having them choose books they love. Just because the words in picture books are not as complex doesn’t mean there is no value in the book. As long as your child enjoys reading they will continue to read. So reading their favourite book over and over again, whether it is one they fully understand or one where they don’t, will be beneficial. No matter what the book is.

white teddy bear reading a book
picture courtesy of pexels

If you want to have a look at books we think are great for lower reading ages, have a look at the Read With Me category.

Happy Reading! 🙂

Footpath Flowers Book Review

Footpath Flowers by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith

This week I received a text from a very good friend saying she’d left something on my doorstep.  I went to look, and found this book, Footpath Flowers.  When I saw her a few days later she said she knew I was going through a rough time, and was going to leave me some flowers. But instead she saw the book and knew that it would be a far better gift.  She was spot on.  I have  been going through a rough time, but this blog has really helped me.  So here I am, writing a book review for a truly beautiful book that has helped me realise that even when you think you are dealing with something alone, there are people out there thinking of you.

Foopath Flowers is a wordless picture book.  Readers will know that I have previously written that good wordless picture books are invaluable at helping children develop speech and language and thinking skills.  This book is no exception.  This book is also an absolute joy to behold.  It gently tells the story of a little girl going home with her father, following a shopping trip.  But the story is so, so much more than this.  The little girl, through the simplest of acts, shares love and kindness along the way.   This is a beautiful story and one that is definitely worth reading.

5 Reasons to Read

 

1 It teaches your child to look deeper

One of the reasons this book stands out is that it is wordless and yet it has an author…. Sounds a bit odd I hear you say! The author, JonArno Lawson is an author and a poet.   In this beautifully illustrated book, JonArno Lawson has created a narrative that is truly poetic. Great poems can be read over and over and each reading brings different interpretations.  This book is the same.  Read it with your child once and talk about it.  Read it again.  What do you notice now? Keep going and keep talking.  By helping your child to go deeper with a children’s book, you are helping them develop skills, and hopefully pleasure, in looking beyond the obvious.

 

2 Anyone can make a difference

The little girl creates a little posy of, well basically, weeds.  She could have held on to them until she got home, but she doesn’t.  She places them, unceremoniously, in places which undoubtedly demonstrates her inate love for living, and once living, animals and people.  It appears that she expects no thanks, just giving for the sake of giving. This is a lesson not just for children, but for us all.

 

3 The narrative is from the little girl’s viewpoint

The narrative is the way the story is written, or in this case, drawn. This book has a simple story. A little girl picks wild flowers and gives them away.  It is the narrative that draws us in to the story and gives us a sense of being part of it. We see the little girl spotting the footpath flowers, often in unusual places, reaching out to get them.  This is very typical of young children, who see the world from a completely different viewpoint, rightfully unburdened by life’s stresses.  Many stories are told in the third person, using the voice of an unseen narrator.  Footpath Flowers, by telling the story from the little girl’s viewpoint, is giving children a different perspective.

 

4 The use of colour

The story starts almost completely in black and white.  Slowly, coulour starts to creep in as the story progresses, in line with the little girl’s act of kindness.  What a lovely way to show that a little bit of love can bring colour into all our lives.  A simple lesson, and one worth remembering.

 

5 The father

When I first read the book, I felt the father was not engaged with the little girl.  This was because he is never seen to be talking to her and is often  on the phone.  However, on re-reading and studying the book, as is so important to do, I got a different impression.  The father is a constant presence, always offering a hand to hold and patiently waiting when the little girl is, so tenderly, placing her flowers. It is this quiet, understated love that I find so appealing.  In this day and age it is not always possible that parents can be a constant presence in their child’s life.  However, what does matter, is that, when there is time to be present, parents demonstrate unconditional love in a way that suits them. Walking quietly, hand in hand, is one charming way of doing this.

Additional Learning Opportunities
  1. Go for a walk and spot wildflowers.  I wonder how many you can find.
  2. Go to a botanical garden and learn more about the huge variety of plants.
  3. Collect some wildflowers and either press them or use them to make a collage.
  4. Discuss what other small acts of kindness could help to lift someone’s day and maybe put one or two into action.
  5. Read Little Red Riding Hood.

5 Ways You Can Help When Listening to Your Child Read

Listening to your child read is key in helping develop their reading skills. But sometimes it can be difficult to find the best way to do this. That’s where we come in. Here are five ways that have been proven to help when you listen to your child read.

picture of a book shelf

1. Let them choose

There’s nothing worse than having something you enjoy taken away from you by making it a chore, or by someone telling you how to do it. It’s the same for a child. Don’t force them into reading a book that they don’t want to read. This could make them resent reading because they associate it with something they HAVE to do rather than they WANT to do.

To help, take them to libraries and let them choose books they like. Even if they choose the same book week after week or they’re choosing books that you feel are too easy for them.  Let them take ownership.  Try to see that their choice is a good thing, as it shows their love of specific books.

girl looking at a notebook

2 Give them time to figure the words out themselves

When they’re reading there are going to be words that they stumble over. Let them try to work it out. Many words in the English language are ‘sound-out-able’ i.e by using the phonics that they have learnt at school, they can say the sounds in the words and then blend the sounds together to make the word.

However some words cannot be sounded out, they are now referred to as “Common Tricky Words”.  Unfortunately, phonics can’t help here.  Your child just needs plenty of practice seeing these words and reading them ‘on sight’.

So when your child stumbles on a word, after about 4-5 seconds, if it is ‘sound-out-able’ then sound it out for them and then just say the word.  If it is not, then just say the word and make sure they repeat it before they carry on.

You could also re-read the whole sentence for them, up to and including the difficult word, so that they don’t lose the flow.  If there comes a point in the book where this difficult word comes up again, and they are still struggling with it, that is completely normal.  Just go through the whole process again.

It is completely normal for children, when learning new words, to repeatedly struggle over the same word.  Although you may see your child remembering it in some contexts but not all.  Again, this is completely normal.  The most important thing is to stay calm and understanding and try really hard to avoid getting frustrated.

It’s like learning to ride a bicycle.  A lot of hard work at the beginning but then with plenty of practice, everything just slots into place.

A stack of picture books with a mug on top

3 Listen to them read “little and often”

It is much better to listen to them read for 10 minutes every day, than for one hour once a week.  The more often a book is read the more your child will remember the words in it. So if you can, put aside some time each day to listen to your child read. It could be a book on their reading scheme, or one that they’ve chosen from the library. It could even be a paragraph from a child-friendly magazine. As long as you’re listening to them read regularly, you’re helping them on their way.

Little boy sitting on a bench with a book, laughing

4 Be encouraging and reward effort over ability

Sometimes it’s difficult knowing how to help someone do something you already know how to do. Let them know there’s no rush in figuring words out and that they’ve done really well. If they pronounce a word wrong or can only work out half a word tell them the right word but congratulate them for trying. Tell them that you’re so proud of how they tried to figure it out even if they didn’t get it quite right.

By rewarding effort over ability you’re helping your child develop a good working mindset. One where they feel they can overcome a challenge if they work at it rather than giving up because they don’t think they can do it.

woman reading by the sea

5 Be a reader yourself

One of the best things that can help children get into reading is if their parents read. Studies have shown that children who grow up in houses with books do better at school than other children. It doesn’t even have to be literature, as long as you enjoy it. Children learn how to act from the people around them, and copy what they do. So the more you read, the more they will too.

 

Photos thanks to Pexels